You don't hear about them often. You probably wouldn't be able to recognize them by face if you walked by them on the street. And they rarely, if ever, get any glory. But offensive linemen are some of the most important players on a football team.
That's especially true for Northwestern in 2015, and there's perhaps no more important lineman than senior Geoff Mogus, a leadership council member and a player whom Pat Fitzgerald describes as an All-Big Ten level talent.
At Northwestern Media Day on Wednesday, I, along with Louie Vaccher of Wildcat Report, spoke with Mogus about his transition to tackle, the effects of that transition on his NFL aspirations and the rest of the offensive line, and some fun topics, including which Northwestern lineman would be the program's best candidate for the Piesman Trophy:
Q: So you've been playing tackle so far in camp?
Mogus: Yessir. Yeah, playing tackle in camp, played it all spring.
Q: So not even mixing in at guard anymore?
Um... I mean, every so often. But mainly tackle.
Q: I talked to you a bit in the spring, but how's the transition going, and how has it progressed since then?
It's going pretty well. [In the spring], I was still kind of getting used to it. But I had the whole summer to work on it, so I've gotten better. But as always, there's always things you've got to work on.
Q: So that was your main focus this offseason?
Q: What are some of the specific things that you work on?
It's mostly drills outside, [not so much weight room]. It's setting vertical — when you're playing guard, you're not setting for much depth — so that's a lot different. So I had to get off the ball, I was working that. So I was kicking off boards, and trying to set vertical. And it's a whole new punch, it's a different target, so I was trying to get used to that. And just trying to get used to keeping the width of the pocket.
Q: So you're working with [offensive line] coach [Adam] Cushing mostly?
Yeah, coach Cush, and I grabbed Deonte Gibson, he's one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten, and getting to go against him is pretty awesome.
Q: So if the Stanford game was tomorrow, would you feel comfortable going out there at left tackle?
Um... Yeah, you know, I'd do it. I'm trying to get one day better. I need more work, but I'd be up for it, I'd go for it.
Q: Is it the kind of thing where you'll be able to feel totally prepared for it by practicing? Or will you have to learn as you go once you get in that first game?
I think I'll feel prepared, but the game is always different than practice. So I think I'll feel prepared, but I think it's a little bit of both. I think I'll pick up some things along the way as well.
Q: Have you always been a guard, even in high school?
So my freshman year [of high school], I played right tackle. And then my sophomore year, I actually started at tackle, but there was an injury inside, so I got moved to right guard. And then the following year, I played left guard, and I've played left guard all the way until this year.
Q: Is there a big difference between right and left?
It is a little bit, but you get used to it. I'm right handed, so it was kind of tough at first, but I got used to it.
Q: So it's more speed out on the edge, right?
Yeah, it's been a challenge... You're out on an island... It's a lot different going against guys like Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson. They're not as thick, but they're very quick, and they have a lot of power as well.
Q: So Matt Frazier is down at guard... is [Ian] Park moving to guard now, and [Brad] North is probably the center?
That's what it is right now. They're kind of flipping. Park has been playing guard, but he's rotating with the twos at center, to get some reps there. [Shane] Mertz is playing right guard, and he's looking pretty good, looking pretty strong.
Q: And then the right tackle is [Eric] Olson?
Yeah, it's Olson right now.
Q: And is anybody else in the mix at guard? Who's taking your spot at left guard right now, is it Park?
Yeah, Park. He's looking pretty strong.
Q: How about the young guys, [Tommy] Doles and [Blake] Hance, are they at tackle?
Yeah, Hance is at right tackle right now, Doles left tackle. They're looking pretty good. You know, they're young. They're still learning. They're getting better, getting better every day.
Q: Losing [center] Brandon [Vitabile], I assume you've had to take on more of a leadership role, is it more difficult to do that from a non-center position? Is the center, like, the natural leader of the line?
Um, yeah, he's making all the calls. But no, I don't think so necessarily. I think anybody can be a leader.
Q: So if Brad [North] is playing center, even as a sophomore, he's still making all the line calls at the line of scrimmage?
Q: What do you think is the biggest improvement the line needs to make going into this season?
I think we've just got to finish. We would play one half of football, and even though we'd come out and play great, we'd kind of take it off. So we've just got to finish. We've got to finish blocks, we've got to finish plays, and we've just got to play tough — tough physically, mentally tough, tough in everything we do.
Q: As a unit, do you guys see yourself as a better run-blocking unit or pass-blocking unit?
I think it's about even. There's always room for improve.
Q: You've blocked for a lot of different guys here, what does Justin Jackson do that sets him apart?
He can make plays for us, he'll make us look good... we'll come out and mess up, and he has the ability to turn nothing into something. He's just explosive, fast, he can take somebody on in the hole, he can juke somebody out, and it's just great having a guy like that.
Q: With a new quarterback, does the offensive line have to take more of the burden? What do you have to do specifically?
We've just got to protect him. We've got to give him time to read the defense and make plays. That's all it is.
Q: Is it different blocking for a mobile quarterback compared to a pocket passer?
Not really. It's the same.
Q: I feel like a lot of people say that a mobile quarterback can make an offensive line look better, because they can evade pressure, do you think that's the case?
Um, you know, I don't really know. You've got to win your one-on-one battles, that's all it comes down to.
Q: So you're in your fifth year now, did you graduate?
I did, I actually finished up my last class [Tuesday], I had a final at 6:30, I had to leave practice early.
Q: What's your degree in?
It's in economics.
Q: So what are you going to do this fall?
I'm going to do a certificate program in strategic marketing.
Q: Are you definitely going to pursue an NFL career?
I think so. Yeah.
Q: Did that factor in at all when you were making the decision about making the move to tackle from guard?
Not at all. Not at all. It's what's best for the team. That's all it is.
Q: So you don't think that would potentially hurt your NFL prospects?
No, I don't think so. I think it will help actually. It shows that I'm versatile, I can play more than one position.
Q: Do you think you're a more natural guard or tackle?
To be honest, I think I'd probably say guard, but I'm getting better. I'm just working it every day, trying to get one day better.
Q: What about your skill set makes you a better guard?
I mean, I've played it all my life. It's just more natural for me I think. But I'm working on it, I'm getting better at tackle.
Q: Alright, I've got some fun questions, I feel like we don't get to hear about the offensive line and your personalities that much. So I'm going to ask you for some superlatives...
Who's the funniest guy in the offensive line room?
Funniest guy? I'd probably say Ian Park. Pretty hilarious. He's got some good jokes. He's real good at impersonations as well. He does a great Christopher Walken impression. Hilarious. So funny.
Q: Who thinks they're the funniest, but they're not actually the funniest?
Ooh. Man. I'd have to go with Shane Mertz. He tries to be funny with sarcasm... it's really not that funny. [Laughs]
Q: Who's the smartest?
I think I'd go with Shane Mertz. Very smart. Studying economics.
Q: Who's the fastest?
I'd probably have to say Tommy Doles. I think he's one of the lightest guys, so that's probably why. [Laughs]
Q: SB Nation came up with a joke off the Heisman Trophy called the Piesman Trophy, for the lineman who makes the most rare, un-lineman play. Who on the team do you think would be the most likely to win it?
Oh, man. I would say Brandon Vitabile but he's not here anymore. Shoot... I would have to say either Ian Park or Eric Olson. I'm not sure why, but I've got a feeling.
Q: I know you're all tough, but who's the biggest ‘tough guy'?
I'd have to say Brad North. He gets in your face a little bit. Just a real intense guy on the field. Off the field, though, it's like night and day .